Celebrating Black Success as a Family Teaches My Kids They Can Do Anything

Taylor Harris has taught her son and daughters that Black excellence isn’t just inspiring but a reminder that they, too, possess the ability to be extraordinary.

illustration of mother and daughter wearing colorful patterns
Photo: Illustration by Joelle Avelino

My 4-year-old daughter, rapt, points at the TV: "This is the first time we've heard Nia Dennis speak!" The UCLA gymnast, whose January floor routine celebrating Black culture went viral, is being interviewed. We'd watched the routine several times as a family. My three young children don't know the music of Missy Elliot or Tupac Shakur; they couldn't name the dances Nia did if asked. Yet watching her spin through the air and nail landings with conviction, witnessing how she flipped her long ponytail with purposeful sass, lifted their mouths into smiles, pulled gasps and giggles of delight from their stomachs. Nia was flying through space.

In his series Infinite Essence, artist Mikael Owunna presents Black bodies as celestial. Dazzling in fluorescent paint, these bodies, shot by his camera, cannot be unjustly destroyed. They are protected, part of the cosmos. Looking at his art feels a bit like peeking in on the beginning, on a time before racism. I'm no photographer, but as a Black mother, I innately understand the need to remember that our bodies are gorgeous constellations, no matter what the world may say.

It's this "no matter" that my kids have already begun to grasp, doing so long before I did when I was young. After Amanda Gorman stepped up to the podium at the inauguration, radiant in yellow, her hair a mark of royalty, my 10-year-old daughter feverishly researched her for days. "She has a speech impediment like me!" and "She likes Hamilton too!" I am watching my baby witness beauty, discover likeness. "I hear Oprah gave her some type of bird ring?" she told me, enthralled.

I tell my children about memoir and legacy, and how those who no longer live among us, live among us. It seems to make an impression. My son, 8 years old and slender with glasses and bronze-colored cheeks, climbs atop our couch one morning in April. He's cut out words, written in Crayola, and now he tapes them high on the wall, near the ceiling. "Happy Birthday Maya Angelou!" they read. A child more drawn to numbers than letters, he has searched for the dates she was born and died and invites us all to celebrate her.

I still worry. My 4-year-old hasn't forgotten the time a classmate criticized her hair. But when I'm two-strand twisting it, when her sister says, "We can do anything with our hair!" I'm reassured. My children haven't forgotten the glory in their Blackness.

Taylor Harris's memoir, This Boy We Made, will be published next year. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's June 2021 issue as "Black Parenting Joy." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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